A New Jersey police department has decided to end the practice of releasing mugshots to the public of arrested individuals in relation to minor offenses, citing a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities.
The Newark Police Department made that announcement early last week after a 2017 social media post recently gained viral attention and a spike in negative comments, according to Public Safety Director Brian O'Hara.
The social media post, which included the photos of six people arrested four years ago on prostitution charges, "suddenly went viral," generating thousands of comments and three times as many shares. O'Hara said many of the comments on the post targeted the suspects' looks and called into question their mental health.
"“The incendiary comments fundamentally indicate that members of marginalized communities—including the transgender community—can become targets of cyber-bullying, which can lead to hate crimes and violence, simply because their photos were published online," O'Hara said.
Newark trails only a handful of other departments across the country to implement such a policy. San Francisco's police department dropped the practice last summer citing racial biases and the potential harm in undermining one's presumption of innocence.
The Associated Press reported that the New York Police Department doesn't release mugshots unless investigators believe that will prompt more witnesses to come forward. New York stopped posting booking photos as part of an effort to curb websites from charging people to remove their photo and booking info.
In Newark, the police department will still release mugshots for individuals arrested on crimes "that cause significant harm in the community" and serve to help apprehend a fugitive, identify other potential victims or suspect, and located missing or endangered persons.
“Public dissemination of mugshots has the potential to affect a person who is subsequently cleared of wrongdoing, as the outdated information remains in the public domain indefinitely. Regulating the release of mugshots can help reduce public bias, stereotyping, and the stigma associated with the modern day “perp walk,” O’Hara explained.
O'Hara said Newark's new mugshot policy went into effect immediately.